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May 15, 2009 9:00 AM

Law Schools, Law Firms Differ Over Recruitment Dates

Posted by Rachel Breitman

Facing continued uncertainty over the economy and weakening business, law firms and law schools are finding themselves at odds over fall recruitment plans. Some firms, unsure of their hiring needs, want to delay on-campus recruiting until 2010. But, say the law schools, rejiggering schedules could hurt students' job prospects.

"I spoke to people at NYU, Harvard, and other schools individually and at the NALP conference in April," says Vinson & Elkins hiring partner Thomas Leatherbury. He had drafted a plan asking schools to consider moving 2L recruiting fairs back to January or February 2010. The extra time, Leathurbury says, would help firms to better assess hiring needs and capacity.

But, Leatherbury says, the idea didn't go over so well. "The general reaction was that if you didn't get Harvard to move, nobody was going to move."

Harvard Law School has moved, just not in the direction some firms might like it to. The on-campus recruiting program at the top ten school begins about a month earlier this year, in the last week of August (one week before classes start). Harvard traditionally runs its recruiting program several weeks after most of the other top ten law schools.

"Having a later recruitment date put our students at a disadvantage," says Mark Weber, assistant dean of career services at Harvard. "The idea of moving our dates later doesn't have any traction right now."

Several schools, including New York University, Columbia, and Georgetown, contend that unless all schools in the top ten shift their long-held recruiting schedules, it will be nearly impossible for individual institutions to make the change.

"Unless everyone makes a move, no school can make a move because their students would be disadvantaged," says Irene Dorzback, assistant dean of the Office of Career Services at NYU Law School. When the topic arose at the annual conference of the National Association of Legal Career Professionals in April, the schools' career officers felt it was too late to consider enacting any changes, Dorzback says.

Still, law firm hiring partners believe the current schedule ties their hands at a time when they cannot accurately predict how big a class they can handle in the summer of 2010.

"It's moving earlier and earlier, and we're sending recruiting committees off to campuses so early that its creating a huge traffic jam," says John Snellings, chair of the professional personnel committee at Nixon Peabody.  "Any effort to move it back a little bit would be welcome."

In addition to the challenges a new schedule might present to students, the law schools also say that early recruitment can potentially be a boon to employers. According to Elaine Petrossian, Villanova  Law School's assistant dean for career strategy, since NALP implemented a 45-day window last year for students to accept or decline a job offer, law firms have asked to schedule recruitment as early as possible. This way, the firms can determine the size of their class sooner and, if need be, make additional offers, she says.

The timing debate seems to have opened the door to more questions raised by the firms on the process overall, especially many schools' use of lotteries to match students with firms. That system, some say, precludes a firms' ability to preselect students with multiple language fluencies, previous graduate degrees, and law review editorial positions.

"A lottery system makes us jump through hoops, since you may not get to see who you want to see," says the recruitment coordinator at one Midwestern-based law firm who requested anonymity to speak frankly. "But the law school deans feel that in order to have a fair cross section of students seen by the firms, the lottery system is necessary."

Despite the desire by many firms to scrap the lotteries, it seems it too will stay. "There's no anticipation that anything would change at Georgetown [which uses a weighted lottery, allowing students to bid on potential employers] or other schools," says Gihan Fernando, assistant dean of career services at the school.

 

 

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Someone needs to let the law schools know that they are the producing a product, not controlling the market. It was offensive enough to be dictated to by law school admission staff in the good old days. Now, when there is a valid reason to delay hiring, it is even more ridiculous. No mystery where law students/new grads get their sense of entitlement. If I were a firm, I'd say OK, we have no openings for 2010 grads.

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